The crisis in the capitalist party political system has become even more acute during May. Two sets of election results have shown that the Labour v Conservative Punch and Judy show has, at least for the time being, lost its ability to call all the shots.
The Council Elections in May saw the two big parties lose seats and majorities in numerous Councils. The "new right" Brexit Party has impacted on the elections to the European Parliament just as its UKIP predecessor did in the previous round in 2014. To complete the trio, the Tory Party has kicked out the Prime Minister as the groupings compete to square the Brexit circle.
Communists recognise the illusory nature of parliamentary democracy in the imperialist epoch. To understand the current convulsions we need to examine the context. We also need to highlight the gulf between the Communist programme and that of both the right and left wings of capitalism.
Below this article is a translation from the Italian language section of leftcom.org – Against Fascism, Against the Bourgeoisie; For Class Struggle and a Revolutionary Party. It further explains the basis for the rise of right-wing populism – a movement with a degree of similarity to previous fascism.
Capitalism in a deepening crisis
The capitalist class in the European Union is faced with ever-increasing challenges as the various components try to compete to maintain their ability to make profits. They now openly talk about the global competition in which they run the risk of being totally sidelined by the ambitions of the US and Chinese superpowers. In an interview for the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, shared with the Europa newspaper alliance, the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel added Russia to the list of rivals.
The Business Insider website summarised key elements of the interview in the following two points:
• There is no doubt that Europe needs to reposition itself in a changed world. The old certainties of the postwar order no longer apply.
• German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she thinks the post-World War II global order as we know it is over — and grouped the United States with China and Russia as adversaries of Europe.
The European bourgeoisies have spent decades saddling the working-class with the costs of the crisis of their capitalist system. Now, as the crisis deepens and trade wars and military adventures escalate anew, doubts have crept in as to whether the well-established political parties are the best vehicle to maintain the bosses' interests.
In Britain, room has been found for the emergence of many hundreds of non-party Independent Councillors, alongside the Green Party and the revived Liberal Democrats, the traditional third party to enrich the party pantomime. The Scottish and Welsh Nationalists become more prominent as the confusion widens.
Paralleling the growth of right populist parties elsewhere in Europe, the Brexit Party has sprung to prominence and naturally the advocates of liberal democracy such as Hope not Hate raise their own profile in response.
British party politics – a confused and uncertain ruling class
The Farage / anti-Farage twin phenomena reflect the crisis amongst the British bourgeoisie as they have attempted to defend themselves during the latest phase of crisis that started in 2008.
The process has unfolded in stages. The epoch of "business as normal" crisis management with a Blair/Brown government ended in 2010. The creation of a Conservative/Lib Dem coalition in 2010-15 was the first time that the bourgeoisie had used the tactic of a formal coalition since 1945.
The strategic tensions overflowed the compartments provided by the existing party power structures as the unsolved economic crisis deepened. One feature was the emergence of the SNP to the leading position in Scotland and then to become the third party in Westminster since 2015. However the catalyst for the current crisis in the Party system was the fractures in the British bourgeoisie producing the Farage-led UKIP. In Great Britain (the Northern Ireland situation is obviously distinct) the 2014 elections to the European Parliament saw UKIP achieve a bigger share of the votes and more seats than any of the other parties.
Since 2015 the chaos in the party political system has proceeded apace. The 2015 General Election provided, very briefly, an apparent return to "strong and stable" single party government. The decision to call the 2016 Referendum was an attempt by the dominant bourgeois faction to deal with the problems in their political superstructure. The fact that the result has been such a drastic unravelling shows a ruling class that has been unable to synthesise a unifying political strategy.
The two dominant parties in the House of Commons have split into competing factions. Parliament has become bogged down in trying to progress Brexit. The tried and trusted mechanism for helping to assure the bourgeois order has failed to deliver. The chaos reflects the failure of the bourgeoisie in Britain to identify a political strategy capable of solving their economic needs.
Although the current chaos within the party political framework in Great Britain is of major proportions it is not clear what the precise outcome will be. Whatever political formations grow, shrink or appear in the capitalist spectrum the absolute certainty is that it the reorganised forces of democracy will be part of the bourgeois onslaught against our class.
The strength of the Farage-led populist movement in favour of distancing Britain from the European Union has been a feature of this ferment. Whether labelled UKIP in 2014 or Brexit Party in 2019 they are able to grab publicity and headlines around the elections to the European elections – an exercise where the majority were not corralled into the voting pantomime and where proportional representation guarantees that such parties can make an impact of some sort.
Populism and anti-populism – the British variation
The anti-populists in common with the earlier anti-fascists will justifiably point out the horrors of potential fascism but will consistently extol the virtues of the existing democratic facade. The fact that the latter can encourage a "hostile environment" towards working class people and the dispossessed wanting to move into Britain, forcibly deport people from "the Windrush generation" and maintain blatantly racist policing methods is blithely ignored.
In advance of the elections to the EU European Parliament, held in Britain on 23rd May, Nick Lowles, CEO of Hope not Hate, talked about “... a populist right party [the Brexit Party] storming to victory in these elections. If that happens as this poll suggests, it will be a big boost for the forces of division in this country."
The true function of the anti-populist ideologues is clear. They "Hope" for as many as possible to be conned by the siren voices of the bosses' electoral game. They "Hate" forces of division and will support any manner of political faction that suits their world view at any given conjuncture. In Mr Lowles' words, "That's why it is so important that progressives get out and vote on Thursday."
Contrary to the anti-populists and anti-fascists, Communists will always explain that our ABC understandings sees the world in terms of a very different fundamental division.
The real alternative
Our basics are clear. We argue them in opposition both to the populists who exploit the deep divisions that class society has fostered and to the anti-populist supporters of the democratic form of bosses' rule.
The Communist Manifesto of 1848 makes clear the starting point for the real view of ongoing historic development. "The history of all hitherto existing society is that of class struggles ... Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great classes directly facing each other: Bourgeoisie and Proletariat". Only a political understanding and method starting from that basis can point the way for a meaningful fight for an end to capitalism's system of exploitation, misery and division.
There is much material on our site and in our publications outlining the disputes amongst the capitalist factions about maintaining or abandoning their 50 year strategic orientation towards the European Union. Our consistent starting point is that taking sides in such disputes is entirely contrary to the need for the working class to develop its own political response. Amongst the articles on the site are: Brexit 2018: The Ruling Class Nightmare Continues, Brexit or Not: Workers Have Their Own Battles to Fight, Ireland and Brexit – Workers Need a Hard Border Against Bosses' Politics!
Against Fascism, Against the Bourgeoisie; For Class Struggle and a Revolutionary Party
Fascism – the extreme right-wing political movement – starting as a marginal phenomenon, takes hold in that part of society suffering from the effects of the capitalist crisis. Today it is the turn of the "populist" and "nationalist" movements, relatives of traditional fascism, to once again pose, in certain ways, the "fascist" threat, due to the audience they have among significant layers of society. Sectors of the petty bourgeoisie and also of the proletariat no longer feel represented or feel betrayed by traditional parties; so they rely on those who promise to get things back to "the good old days", when they could get to the end of the month without too much strain on their wages.
Lately, the extreme right in Europe has registered significant electoral successes, even in areas with a long working class tradition, devastated by de-industrialisation, or in the working-class neighbourhoods subjected to a progressive degradation of the most basic living conditions, originating in the spread of unemployment and precariousness, from cuts to social services, from the lack of prospects for young people, destined to end up in neighbourhood gangs or, in some countries, to become fodder for Islamist fanaticism, in parallel with the growing voracity and corruption of city administrators.
If the left parties that, in theory, said they represented the interests of the lower social classes, then apply the same unpopular policies, who is there to put a stop to this rampant impoverishment and social insecurity? Where could those hopes, crushed under the rubble of what was believed to be socialism, be rekindled? The inability – in the absence of an authentically communist reference point – to explain the collapse of the hopes placed in a world believed, wrongly, to be different (ex USSR), has helped to ensure that class hatred, discontent, are picked up by those who offer solutions which are as simple as they are false.
And yet they work, because the political forces that propose them start from real issues, but distort the causes that shaped them. Dismantled factories transferred abroad, shopkeepers and artisans forced to close, rapacious taxation for those who cannot objectively evade taxes or can no longer do so, while the banks are stuffed with a mountain of money. All in the name of "Europe". Therefore, if this is what "Europe is asking for ", those responsible for the social malaise appear to be the European institutions, the euro, the collapse of the borders, which "brought us people willing to work for a few euros an hour and steal our welfare, our work, take advantage of 'our' health system". A Europe that would favour the arrival, by the thousands, of refugees accused of enjoying privileges (non-existent, of course), to "our" detriment.
So, not many ideas, and all very confused. The alleged solutions are equally ramshackle. Protection of jobs for native-born workers, combating immigration, leaving the euro, fighting against "caste" and crime (with the implication that it is mostly immigrant). But the call for greater social protection for "our compatriots" is just smoke in the eyes. Nationalism and racism make up the stinking glue that hold together an ideology made of lies. When defenders of "sovereignty" participate in government (even in coalition: see Berlusconi-Lega1 ), they don’t carry out those social policies to help the weaker social groups that they trumpet, but do exactly what governments have been doing for decades: they attack the proletariat and those social strata closest to it. For example, "Quota 100" is a dirty scam, which leaves the odious "Fornero Law"2 standing, imposing the "pizzo”3 (a cut in the amount) to those who want to retire, after endless decades of work.
So what do we do? Without underestimating the possible "black" option”4 – in the traditional sense – of the bourgeoisie and even less its "populist" relative, the primary task is to work to build the communist alternative to this society. The political response that must be given is in fact anti-capitalism and not a general and misleading anti-fascism. The primary political task is therefore the work for the constitution of the political instrument – the party of the anti-capitalist revolution on an international scale – the only one that can dispel the poisonous fumes that pollute or stultify proletarian consciousness, to direct them politically beyond capitalist society, in all its variants.
- 1The last time the Lega of Salvini was in coalition with Berlusconi’s Forza Italia it was still called the Lega Nord (Northern League) but it failed then to carry out any of the policies it campaigned on.
- 2Quota 100 is a new proposal of the “populist” Lega- Five Star coalition to tackle the pension deficit by demanding that when someone reaches pensionable age they should also have paid in contributions for a number of years which add to their pension age to make 100. Some people might be 80 before they qualify. The Fornero Law passed by the previous Left PD government had a similar kind of arrangement.
- 3A pizzo derives from Neapolitan dialect and is the protection money paid to the Mafia.
- 4In short, fascism.